At its July 15 meeting, the City of Southport Planning and Zoning Board reviewed and approved a motion for minor modifications to two proposed developments within the city’s limits.
In 2019, the board approved a commercial site plan for Vision Square of Southport. The proposed modification is for changes to the storage building at the back of the development from a single 5,616 square foot self storage building with 48 storage units to two 2,016 square foot storage buildings with 15 proposed units, a decrease of 18 units. Existing parking and landscaping plans will remain the same.
The board also approved a provision for additional landscaping to Taylor Field, a 4.72 acre park development submitted by McGill & Associates. The provision includes adding more trees while trying to stay within the project’s recommended budget. A picnic shelter will be relocated from its original proposed site within the park which will include a paved boardwalk walking trail, a multi-use open space, a picnic pavilion and fenced small and large dog play areas, among other facilities. The board will accept public input on what types of amenities citizens would like to see in the area.
Development plans for a Take 5 Express Car Wash (5187 Eason Street) and oil change (5189 Eason Street) in the city’s satellite corporate limits were discussed at length with input from concerned residents.
The proposed site for the oil change would be accessed by Eason Street with a shared driveway for both operations. The site plan for the car wash includes a single bay or cleaning station and 18 vacuum spaces, the latter drawing questions from planning board member Maureen Meehan about traffic flow, including entrance and exit issues and the need for so many vacuums at one car wash.
“With 18 cars an hour they’re not gonna all be lining up for the vacuum at the same time, isn’t 18 vacuum stalls excessive?” Meehan asked. Development Director for the Durban Group LLC, Stephen Knudsen, responded that a paying station would regulate any potential problems with traffic flow.
“The idea is to go through the paying station before customers get to the vacuums,” Knudsen said.
The most pressing question of the evening, however, was posed by concerned Rivermist residents regarding preservation of the area’s live oaks. The site lies adjacent to their neighborhood.
“What’s making everybody so nervous, in particular, is the 300-year-old trees: not every single one of the trees, they’re mostly I believe on Black Point on lot one and tonight we’re not talking about that but it’s right on the line,” said Rivermist resident Charles Bruce, who expressed concern about the “critical root system” of trees affected. He also questioned the need for another car wash.
“I’ll just say, this is the nervousness: the car wash, it will be the sixth car wash,” stated Bruce. “I didn’t know anyone had cars that were that dirty out there.”
Fellow Rivermist resident Margo Morrow supported Bruce in his reservations.
“We have a lot of questions and we just would like clarification on the developments that are coming in. And again, it may be the preservation of those beautiful, beautiful, old live oaks,” Morrow said.
After the meeting board chair Tish Hatem said the concerns of neighboring residents were understandable.
“They want to save the trees, they would like for it not to be able to be built. But of course you know - by law, they (the developers) purchased the land, it’s an approved use, it’s not something that is not allowed for that property. We don’t have an ordinance that says you can’t have a car wash every 10 miles,” Hatem said.
The Durban Group’s Stephen Knudsen assured those in attendance that any concerns would be addressed and reflected in plans moving forward should members of the planning committee recommend amending the site plans.
“I think our engineers worked pretty diligently with the staff to try to address concerns to minimize the impact of the trees where we can within the confines of the ordinance,” Knudsen said.
The car wash and oil change are being treated as one site in terms of tree removal and litigation. The plan to date calls for the removal of 16 regulated trees with 15 regulated pine and oak trees to be preserved, including a 76-inch and a 46-inch oak. The plan calls for the planting of 18 River birch trees along with 27 laurel oaks and 15 green ash trees. Another 35 live oaks would also be planted.
Any major development site proposal requires a tree plan and tree removal permit to remove trees that fall under what is known as the “regulated” category (eight-inch hardwoods and 12-inch conifers within any setback) or specimen trees located anywhere on the site (30 inches). If the trees are removed, the permit plan must fall within permitted regulations and replanting of specified trees must take place. Two large trees, 76-inch and 46-inch oaks, respectively, will be preserved and Knudsen said tree protection fencing will be used. A minimum of 50-percent of total trees removed will be replanted, he promised.
Moving forward, the planning committee will meet with developer Boing US HOLDCO, Inc., to review the site plans. The Planning & Zoning Board serves as the advisory body to the Board of Aldermen and makes recommendations about the city’s Unified Development Ordinance and specific development projects. Once the committee has returned with any recommended changes the Planning Board will review the plans and if all questions have been answered satisfactorily a public hearing will be called. Pending further reviews and public comment a recommendation will then be made to the Southport Board of Aldermen to accept or reject the plan.